FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Instead of taking their customary verbal shots at the New England Patriots, the New York Jets spent Wednesday trying to clean up a festering controversy in their own locker room.
Wide receiver Santonio Holmes touched an internal nerve by calling out quarterback Mark Sanchez and the offensive line after Sunday night's 34-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The damage control began Monday on the practice field, where Sanchez gathered the entire offense and delivered an impassioned speech that emphasized team unity, ESPNNewYork.com has learned.
Sanchez admitted Wednesday that Holmes' comments were addressed among the players. Clearly, Sanchez was uncomfortable discussing the matter with reporters, but he left little doubt that the remarks didn't sit well.
"Our player policy is to keep things in-house. That kind of stuff won't happen again," said the Jets quarterback, adding, "We talked about it. ... Within our locker room, we talk about stuff like that. That's as far as I'm going to go with that."
The Jets (2-2) have lost two straight, they face the Patriots (3-1) Sunday in Foxborough and the last thing they need is a fractured locker room. Perhaps sensing possible turmoil, Sanchez spoke to the offense Monday after its weekly "corrections" period on the field.
"He said some very poignant things," backup quarterback Mark Brunell said. "He did a really good job. In fact, I told him (Tuesday), 'You did a great job with the offense.' I don't know -- I wasn't here -- but I don't think he would've done that his rookie year (in 2009). What he said could not have been said any better. I was impressed. That's what we needed."
Both Sanchez and Holmes declined to provide specifics from the fallout, but it doesn't appear as if they talked about it privately, one-on-one.
Holmes said he never meant to criticize a specific player or unit after Sunday's meltdown, which included four turnovers by Sanchez -- three of which were returned for touchdowns. But Holmes also said, "I honestly don't know what was said that I caused a stir in the locker room."
After the loss, Holmes -- a team captain -- told reporters that the problem on offense "starts up front with the big guys," adding that Sanchez "has to do a better job of making reads and getting the ball where he needs to, so his playmakers can make plays."
Holmes didn't back off the statement, but he claimed he also mentioned after the game that the receivers need to play better, too. (For the record, he didn't call out the receivers in his postgame remarks.) He said he didn't mean to say anything negative.
"I would never do that," he said. "I didn't sign back here to be that guy."
But at the same time, Holmes said his status as captain affords him a certain entitlement. He and Sanchez are among five captains, all appointed by coach Rex Ryan.
"If Coach put a 'C' on my chest, everybody should listen to what I have to say whether it's good or bad -- and let's deal from it," said Holmes, who signed a five-year, $45 million contract. "Let's not take it out and say, 'OK, we're going to trash this person for saying something bad about the team in the media.' No, let's grab what we talked about and grow from it and try to make this team better."
On Monday, Ryan downplayed Holmes' comments, saying his players have a right to speak their minds. A few players said they weren't offended, but the fact that it was addressed behind closed doors should say something.
"I have no opinion on that," said guard Brandon Moore, one of the most respected players on the team.
It was the second time in two weeks that Holmes raised eyebrows with postgame comments. After the Week 3 loss in Oakland, he took a veiled shot at offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, saying the offense needed to adjust more quickly in the game.
Sanchez made it clear that he wants criticisms to stay in-house.
"Those individual improvements, that happens on a personal level," he said. "You go with your position coaches and go through your reads, and I'm going to get better. But that kind of stuff doesn't go past this locker room."
Sanchez said it's his job as the team leader to set the tone, especially in times like these. He admitted he was "curious" to see how the team, which no longer has vocal leaders such as Damien Woody and Thomas Jones, would respond to the embarrassing loss. Sanchez said Wednesday's practice was full of energy, listing Holmes among the players who demonstrated leadership on the field.
"That's what I'm trying to do this week, show the guys that ... I'm the man, I don't care what anybody says, I'm the man in this building and we've got to win this game," Sanchez said. "That's what I've got to exude. That's the confidence I need to have. That's the way I felt this week."
Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com.